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The S'Mya Diary - Part XIII

My freshman year with the Jayhawks, by S'Mya Nichols

5 min read

She’s one of the most highly recruited Jayhawks in KU women’s basketball history and her goals and expectations for her career, this season and this team are sky high.

She also happens to be a native Kansan who joined Brandon Schneider’s program to help take KU women’s basketball to another level.

Join us as we chronicle Year 1 of the S’Mya Nichols era at Kansas and look for new editions of The S’Mya Diary each week throughout the 2023-24 season.

The S'Mya File

Age: 19 | Height: 6-0 | Position: Guard

High School: Shawnee Mission West | AAU: Missouri Phenom

Notable: One of six sisters in her family, Nichols was the nation's No. 5-ranked prospect at her position and rated No. 22 overall in the Class of 2023 by Collegiate Girls Basketball Report... She was one of 50 players on the Naismith Girls High School Player of the Year Award watch list and a McDonald's All-America nominee, and she was a member of the 2022 Team USA U18 National Team, which won a gold medal at the FIBA U18 Americas Championship... Scored more than 1,000 points in her prep career while earning several all-state and all-league honors... Committed to Kansas in October 2022, choosing KU over Tennessee, Arizona Oklahoma, Missouri and many others.

We started this, unofficially, with Nichols sharing her thoughts about her first ever Late Night in the Phog. And she has agreed to provide R1S1 Sports with an insider’s look at her first season as a Jayhawk.

In Part XII, we took a look at Nichols’ first taste of postseason basketball with the Jayhawks, covering everything from Big 12 tournament play to the excitement of Selection Sunday and more. 

In this chapter, we’ll dive deeper into that idea, with Nichols giving her thoughts on her first NCAA Tournament appearance as well as a general look back at Year 1, how fast it went and what she learned.

“I mean, it was great. Honestly, just the whole stage, you know. Seeing March Madness and NCAA Tournament (banners) everywhere you went was really cool. I enjoyed where they sent us, too. Cali." 

Nichols and the Jayhawks went 1-1 in this year’s NCAA Tournament, knocking off Michigan in overtime in a thrilling Round 1 game before falling to top-seeded USC in the Round of 32.

Nichols averaged 18.5 points per game in this year’s NCAA Tournament — slightly up from her season average of 15.4 ppg — and those offensive outings proved to be the perfect cap on a season that saw her score in double figures 29 times in 33 games.

In the loss to USC, Nichols was reunited with longtime friend Juju Watkins, a first-team All-American who starred for the Trojans as a freshman.

“We’re not like the closest of friends, but we went to a lot of camps together when we were younger and have just kind of been around each other.”

Nichols said Watkins was always as good as she looked this postseason.

“Oh yeah. She’s ridiculous. I used to play her a lot in AAU, as well. I think it was cool to play against her on that stage. I thought it was a blessing for both of us.”

The one part of the matchup she did not like, however, was that it led to the end of her season.

“It was just like that little sting of, ‘It’s over.’”

From there, Nichols spent the rest of March watching the tournament playing out, with the women’s event drawing the most attention and best ratings it has seen in the sport’s history.

“Just seeing and watching the Elite Eight games and the Final Four, I just felt a real desire to be there and a little anxious about it. I’m just looking forward to the future and also working on what I need to do better to even get there.”

Nichols knows she had a good freshman season. And she enjoyed every aspect of it, from the wins and stats to the lessons and experiences. But she’s not one to spend too much time looking back on her first year with the program.

“I’m not really dwelling on anything. I’m more like looking forward to next season because that’s the one that matters the most now.”

It certainly will look and feel different from Day 1. No longer will Nichols have seasoned veterans all around her. In fact, she’ll become the seasoned veteran, even as a sophomore.

“The funny thing about this is, in AAU, I used to have a new team every year, just because I was always the youngest on the top team and the seniors would always leave and a new group would come in. And then finally I was the oldest and then I was leaving.”

“I’ve always looked at it like next year, next year, but only when the season’s over.”

That, of course, came a few weeks ago in Southern California. And while Nichols said there was no official passing-the-torch conversation between her and her departing teammates, outgoing seniors Holly Kersgieter and Ryan Cobbins both did reference what comes next in subtle ways.

“It was pretty much just them saying, ‘Keep it up, it’s your turn now.’”

 “I’m definitely going to miss them, but it wasn’t like the saddest thing ever when the season ended, just because they have other opportunities and are heading to a new step and phase of life. So, it’s not like it’s farewell. I will see them again.”

“And for me, and our team, it’s exciting just because there’s more to come. Once you go so far, you have a desire to go even further.”

Check out past entries of The S'Mya Diary...

• Part I - My first KU media day

• Part II - The lull before the start of the season

• Part III - A look back at my KU debut

• Part IV - Life on the road

• Part V - Disappointment in paradise

• Part VI - Not 1 but 2 career-high outings

• Part VII - Have a holly jolly Christmas

• Part VIII - Frustration gives way to history

• Part IX - Breaking down the Big 12

• Part X - Adjusting to opposing defenses

• Part XI - Coming up clutch when it counts

• Part XII - The postseason is here!

• Look for Part XIV sometime in May, as Nichols transitions from KU freshman in Year 1 to returning starter ready to lead the team into the future.

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